In February 1924, a group of 36 women desired to create a society so others with common interests could gather for fellowship and to improve the social, civic, educational and moral welfare of the community. One hundred years later, members continue the tradition of hosting and supporting programs benefitting students, women and the community.
The organization has maintained a roster of dedicated women for a century, and the club is steeped in history and tradition.
“I think that because we’re dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through community service,” said Sue Lowrie, first-year club president and a member for five years. “We are one of the few organizations that have been volunteering for over 100 years.”
The earliest members joined after their previous social group, Community Club, disbanded. They brought with them $120.78 to the newly formed club, and 10 months later, members had grown the fund to $1,000.
The first official meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Arthur M. Clark. The first president was Bess Scott. The club motto was “In unity there is strength,” its colors were orange and green, and the club flower was the hibiscus.
The Ocoee club federated with Orange County in 1925 and joined the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1932.
The club’s earliest service projects were beautifying the grounds, donating library books, and providing clothing and lunches for needy children at the local school; and planting palm trees and hibiscuses along the city’s roadways.
Because the club had money in its bank account, it was approached for financial assistance in a variety of ways: to provide a layette for a new baby, glasses for an elderly couple and bleachers for the Ocoee school.
Before a permanent meeting space was established, the members met in each other’s homes, in the pavilion of the bath house at Starke Lake and at the Ocoee Inn. They raised funds through musical teas, barn dances, card parties, bake sales, annual bazaars and suppers.
The one-story clubhouse, built at 4 N. Lakewood Ave., with Works Progress Administration funds, was completed and dedicated in February 1938. It originally was deeded — for the purposes of the WPA grant — to the city of Ocoee until its completion but was turned over to the woman’s club that year.
As the club membership grew, so, too, did the departments in which the women could serve. Under the Fine Arts umbrella, members could participate in Bible, Literature, Music and Drama, Decorations and Flowers, and Hospitality and Hostess. Under Social Service, the women could choose either Health and Welfare or the Needlework Guild.
Citing a sincere interest from younger women, the club started the Ocoee Junior Woman’s Club. The junior and senior groups eventually merged.
Club members spent hours gathered at the local school’s lunchroom to can vegetables and fruit to give to families in need. During World War II, they folded bandages for the American Red Cross and other causes to help with the war effort. They sewed garments for Orange General Hospital.
A newspaper article dated Feb. 5, 1960, described in ornate detail the annual birthday luncheon and the extent to which the table hostesses decorated for their month.
“January, Mrs. C.L. Allen and Mrs. O.E. McGuire, whose theme was taken from the new year, with the new year riding on a miniature float and party dolls made from wooden spoons and net at each place. … March, by Miss Lillian Maguire, was a bit of the Emerald Isle itself. The Irish linen tablecloth had shamrocks woven into the cloth, and the cream and sugar set was Irish silver, all brought back from her visit from Ireland last summer. Her centerpiece was white milk glasses filled with white and green magnolias.”
The rest of the months were rounded out with pink and gray damask cloth, white swan mint cups, a summer idyll with water lilies, a Styrofoam schoolhouse and miniature schoolhouses at each place with tablets and pencils as favors, a china sleigh filled with nuts, and a salt-and-pepper set featuring two children in a sleigh.
The club supported such events and causes as the March of Dimes drives and the American Red Cross. Members planned benefit brunches and card parties, election luncheons, yearly May Day teas and the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner tradition of serving corned beef and cabbage.
In 2010, the club officially added General Federation to its name after many years of being an active club member.
A year later, the clubhouse was recognized for its historical significance and added to the National Register of Historic Places, joining two other Ocoee structures: Ocoee Christian Church and the Withers-Maguire House. The Woman’s Club facility is the only building in the city constructed in the Art Moderne style of architecture.
The Woman’s Club of Ocoee has close to 30 members who continue the work started generations ago. Among the club’s many projects is the Creative Expressions program for fifth-graders at Ocoee’s elementary schools. It started as an essay contest and has grown to include essays, artwork, poetry, music and skits on a topic provided by the club. The winners are recognized by club members, and the school receives school supplies.
For years, the club has hosted the city’s political forums with Ocoee City Commission candidates and has offered scholarships to female students at Ocoee and West Orange high schools and Orange Technical College – Westside Campus.
The women engage in other community outreach programs involving Camp Boggy Creek, Canine Companions for Independence, Special Olympics and Wreaths Across America at Florida National Cemetery. The club created a special project, Warm and Fuzzies, and donated annually about 50 bags that included a blanket, book and other children’s items to young patients in cancer treatment through Advent Health.
Members also continue to enjoy their annual birthday luncheon, where they sit at a holiday-themed table that corresponds with their birth month.
Lowrie is excited to lead the club into its next chapter.
“Plans are to just continue on as we have been, volunteering in the community with various projects,” she said. “We have our own (programs) we support, in addition to other community projects.”
Members and guests of the club will gather Saturday, Feb. 10, for its Centennial Celebration. Several special guests are expected, and a representative of Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings will present a proclamation.